Postseason baseball awards are in full swing, with the big league baseball ranks embroiled in lively debates on Cy Young Awards and Rookies of the Year. (Give me Arrieta for NL Cy Young and Lindor over Correa for AL ROY.) It got us thinking about our own award banquet here in the Hillsboro front office.
We had such a special year with such special moments and such special players. So, over the course of the next several weeks, we’ll nominate specific players and events from our magical 2015 run, and allow you, the fans, the opportunity to vote on your favorite moments from another incredible year in Hopland.
The first category up for grabs: Game of the Year
- Galli Gets A Win: Hops 10, Canadians 9 (14) 8/15/15
It was a rousing start for the home team as the Hops sprinted out of the gates to an 8-0 lead through five innings over the visiting Vancouver Canadians. Dansby Swanson provided his first career professional hit with a triple, and Trevor Mitsui launched a home run, as he was wont to do. Cody Reed was dominant through five innings, and given the stalwart nature of Hillsboro’s bullpen, the lead was plenty.
Until it wasn’t. Vancouver surged back and stole a 9-8 lead. Hillsboro would rally to tie it in the 9th inning. The game pressed on deep into the night and by the time the 14th inning rolled around, Hops skipper Shelley Duncan was out of pitchers.
Enter Galli Cribbs, Jr. The ultra-utility man who logged time at first base, second base, shortstop, third base, center field, and now pitcher, entered the game. He fired a scoreless inning, allowing a lone hit and even recording a strikeout. All the Hops had to do was plate a run in the bottom of the 14th and Cribbs would be the winner.
Sure enough, Gerard Hernandez fired a single up the middle to score Trevor Mitsui, and Galli Cribbs, Jr. was your winning pitcher. Just another night at Ron Tonkin Field.
2. Miller Goes the Distance: Hops 5, Indians 1 7/10/15
Jared Miller was a member of the 2014 Northwest League Champion Hillsboro Hops and began 2015 up with the Kane County Cougars of the Midwest League. He started strongly enough there, but was reassigned to Hillsboro to “get right” when he encountered some turbulence for the Cougars.
Well, he got right. Pitching with his family in attendance against the Spokane Indians, Miller fired the first complete game of his career. He allowed only four hits, and the lone run the Indians tallied was unearned. He struck out eight and never let Spokane off the mat. It was his fifth consecutive outing recording a win, and his ERA dropped to 0.77 by the end of the complete game.
Somehow, it would get even better. Miller won his next start too, making him 6-0 in his first six starts since returning to Hillsboro. His ERA fell to 0.66 after his six shutout frames against Eugene on 7/16. He struck out 11.
After his start against Eugene, Jared would go on to make three more starts for Hillsboro before being promoted back to Kane County to finish the season. Along the way, he was named the starting pitcher for the Northwest League against the Pioneer League in the inaugural All-Star Game between the Short-Season leagues.
3. Swanson sends Hops to NWL Championship Series: Hops 6, Volcanoes 5 (13) 9/9/15
It’s hard to even write about this one. The Hops and Volcanoes had split the first two games of the NWL South Division Series. The winner of Game Three would advance to the championship series. So it was win or you’re playing golf in the morning.
The Hops had Pumpkin Ridge on their speed dial as they fell behind 3-0 through three innings, but the story wasn’t sent to production just yet. Hillsboro stormed back to take a 4-3 lead and handed the game off to their dominant bullpen to render the Volcanoes dormant.
They had done just that up until the 9th inning. With the Hops clinging to that 4-3 lead, Ronnie Jebavy of the Volcanoes ripped a home run to left on Alex Young’s first offering of the frame. Then, with two outs, Chris Shaw laced another solo homer, and suddenly the Hops had to scratch and claw to keep the season alive.
They did in the bottom of the 9th. They managed a single run to tie the game and send it to extras.
Hillsboro put Salem-Keizer on the ropes in the 13th inning. With the bases loaded and nobody out, the first overall selection of the 2015 MLB Draft, Dansby Swanson, had the opportunity to send the Hops to the championship series. He tagged a ball over the centerfielder’s head and the party was on. They’d go on to win the title 4 days later.
So what do you think Hops fans? What was your favorite game? Vote below! Do you have a different game you’d nominate? Tell us about it!
The 2015 Northwest League Champion Hillsboro Hops (that feels good to say) were treated to one of the most incredible pitching performances in the history of the league this summer.
Taylor Clarke, selected in the third round of the MLB Draft by Arizona in 2015, logged 23 innings in his first professional baseball season. In those 23 innings, he allowed ten hits, walked five batters, and struck out 30. He did not allow a single run for the entire season, earned or otherwise. Let me type that again. He did not allow a single run for the entire season.
Some other fun Clarke stats: Opponents all season hit .128 off of Clarke (10-78). Every hit he allowed was a single. Every one. Also fun: that’s not the best batting average against on the team. Opponents hit .121 off of Brody Greer (15-124).
In 13 innings at home, Clarke allowed five baserunners (three hits, two walks) and struck out 19 batters. In ten innings on the road, he really struggled: He allowed a whopping eleven baserunners (seven hits, three walks, one hit batter).
It truly is among the most dominant seasons in the history of pitching in the Northwest League. But where does Clarke go from here?
He was selected out of the College of Charleston as a starting pitcher, but following a heavy collegiate workload in 2014 and corrective elbow surgery in 2013, the Diamondbacks wanted to take it slow with this clearly prized arm. The big league team will want to see him in a starting capacity in 2016 after an offseason to rest his arm and prepare for a heavier workload.
The next jump for Clarke from a level standpoint would be to the Kane County Cougars of the Class-A Midwest League, but his stellar year here with the Hops may earn him a season-opening trip to the Advanced-A Visalia Rawhide. How he transitions back into a starting role will show exactly who he is as a prospect. It’s clear to see that however Clarke fares in his return to a starting role, he has shown that he can be a ruthlessly dominant reliever.
Thanks for a tremendous year to Taylor, and best of luck moving up through the system.
Some other notes that must be touched on following the 2015 title…
Carlos Hernandez pitched in two elimination games in the playoffs for the Hops. Game 2 against Salem-Keizer, he went 6.1 shutout innings, allowing three hits, two walks and striking out 12 to lead Hillsboro to an 8-0 victory. Then, in the clinching game in the 2015 NWL Championship Series, he went 5.2 innings, allowed two hits, two walks, one run and struck out 7 to record another victory for the Hops. In the playoffs, the NWL pitcher of the year threw 12 innings, allowed five hits, four walks, one earned run and struck out 19. He won both starts.
Brody Greer was incredible himself. We mentioned earlier that he led the team in batting average against, but let’s show the whole line too, because it’s insane. He threw 36.2 innings, allowed 15 hits, walked 16 and struck out 57. Fifty-seven punch-outs! Greer was a shortstop while in college at South Carolina-Upstate but was signed as a pitcher by the Diamondbacks when he showed a mid-90’s fastball while pitching for the Peninsula Oilers of the Alaska Baseball League. A cool story and a tremendous season.
2015 had no shortage of remarkable stories, and we’ll highlight them as we celebrate our championship. Hope you all have had a great beginning to your offseason.
Driving home late last night, I experienced a confluence of different emotions. The Hops had just beaten Tri-City in Game 1 of the Northwest League Championship Series to get within one game of defending their 2014 title. But it was also the last Hops game that would be played at Ron Tonkin Field in 2015. I was ecstatically sad. Fired up but somber. I didn’t know what to feel, so I just turned the music up and tried to enjoy the moment.
You see, there really is no place like Ron Tonkin Field, and it isn’t because of what we, the front office, do. It’s about what our nightly party guests do. Every single home game this summer, there was a palpable energy buzzing around our office, and it is because you, the fans, make us want to do our best to give you everything. And that is because you give us everything.
Every professional sports team in this country says they have the best fans around. Only one can make that claim, and believe deep down that it is really true. The Hillsboro Hops. In my heart of hearts, I honest-to-God, 100% believe that the passion and intensity our Hops Nation has for our boys in blue is unmatched. Not just by another team in the Northwest League, but by any professional sports team on this planet.
There is a sense of family among our fan base. We collectively held our breath as Ariel Hernandez fought through an incredibly intense ninth inning in game one. We released an immense joy as Dansby Swanson touched the sky to spear Alexis Olmeda’s throw to catch the runner stealing second. This does not happen without the fans.
The actual Hops themselves are tangibly inspired to play well for the fans. Coming from atmospheres at other ballparks, and then seeing the rally towels, the fireworks, the chest bumps, the oohs and aahs, changes everything. They want to win for themselves, yes, but they also want to win for you. That is definitely not always the case.
Let’s go back to Game 3 of the South Divisional Series against the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. Everything was on the line, and the Hops were down 3-0. Cameron Gann was on to pitch and the team was just missing some spark. Who knows what it was, but it wasn’t there.
Looking back now, I think I know what it was. The fans needed one more game at Ron Tonkin Field. They were not ready for the season to end right there, not when it was situationally possible for another game to occur at Ron Tonkin Field. So you, Hops Nation, changed the game.
You got on your feet, you chanted the names of players, you waved rally towels. Cameron Gann struck out Jose Vizcaino Jr. and the stadium erupted. It was a shot in the arm to the team, and they responded with runs. They wanted to give you that final game too. Who else on the planet could say that?
It is our complete honor and privilege to bring you guys baseball every summer. Thank you so much, from the bottom of all of our hearts in the Hillsboro front office, from the Hopspitality team, from Sean and his security team, from Tommy and Dale at Ovations, from Brian and the Peters up in production, from Barrett and his crew in the cage downstairs, from Rich and Matt in the home radio booth, for giving us everything this summer. We are overwhelmed by what you do for us, and it drives us to be the best staff we can possibly be each and every year. We love you and we cannot wait to see the best fans in the world in June of 2016.
Stay #AllHoppedUp will ya? Now, let’s get this ring.
The first overall selection of the 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Dansby Swanson, will embark on his professional baseball career with the Hillsboro Hops. Swanson will report to Hillsboro on August 12th for the first game of a five-game set with the Vancouver Canadians. Tickets are available at www.hillsborohops.com or by calling the Hillsboro front office at (503) 640-0887.
It is yet to be determined how long Swanson will play with Hillsboro. With his assignment to the Hops it means that the Diamondbacks’ first six selections of the 2015 draft (Swanson, Alex Young, Taylor Clarke, Breckin Williams, Ryan Burr, and Tyler Mark) either currently play for Hillsboro, or logged time with them during this season.
Swanson is a shortstop by trade and played his collegiate ball at Vanderbilt University, a strong baseball school that has produced major league talents like Toronto pitcher David Price, Oakland pitcher Sonny Gray, and Pittsburgh infielder Pedro Alvarez. Swanson and the Commodores won the 2014 College World Series over the Virginia Cavaliers. They advanced again in 2015 to the College World Series but this time fell to the same Cavaliers.
Swanson and former Hillsboro Hops left-handed pitcher Jared Miller were roommates and teammates during their time at Vanderbilt and celebrated the 2014 College World Series title together. The two are still very close friends and keep in close contact.
Swanson was seen as the most polished all-around player in the 2015 MLB Draft Class. He is a strong hitter with a good amount of pop and a versatile middle infielder, logging significant time at both second base and shortstop at Vanderbilt. In his junior season at Vanderbilt he hit .335 with 24 doubles, 6 triples, 15 home runs, and 64 RBIs in just 71 games. He also swiped 16 bases. He’ll be a welcome addition to the Hillsboro offense and figures to slot in right away at shortstop.
He was sent to the AZL to begin his career where in his first ever simulated game, he took a 97 MPH fastball to the face, suffering a mild concussion and a facial laceration that required 14 stitches. The incident set back his assignment to an affiliate by a couple of weeks.
Swanson is expected to move through the system quickly. He is a very advanced hitter and is extremely well-regarded for his discipline and makeup. After he signed his contract, the Diamondbacks brought him to Chase Field to meet the big league team and take batting practice on the field, but Swanson declined the opportunity, instead saying he would take BP with the big club only when he has earned it. He plays very hard and is known to be a great teammate.
His negotiations with the Diamondbacks were well-documented as he reportedly signed his rookie contract just minutes before the deadline to sign, when he agreed to a $6.5 million dollar signing bonus.
Welcome to #HopsNation, Dansby!
Earlier this week it was announced that four Hillsboro Hops were selected to participate in the 2015 All-Star Game. For the first time ever, the game will pit the Northwest League against the Pioneer League. Outfielder Zach Nehrir, right-handed pitcher Carlos Hernandez, and left-handed pitchers Jared Miller and Cody Reed will represent both the Hops and Northwest League on August 4 in Spokane.
Last year the Hops had eight players selected (Jordan Parr, Nick Baker, Grant Heyman, Cody Geyer, Zac Curtis, Elvin Soto, Ryan Doran, and Dustin Loggins), but now the eight teams of the NWL will produce just one total team, whereas last year’s format was comprised of a team from the NWL-North Division and NWL-South Division. Now, it is just the single Northwest League Team, and spots in the game are much more difficult to come by.
The Pioneer League has eight teams, the same amount as the NWL. The Pioneer League teams are the Billings Mustangs (CIN), Ogden Raptors (LAD), Orem Owlz (LAA), Great Falls Voyagers (CWS), Idaho Falls Chukars (KC), Grand Junction Rockies (COL), Missoula Osprey (ARI), and the Helena Brewers (MIL).
Arizona and Colorado are the two big league teams with farm clubs in both the Northwest and Pioneer Leagues.
Hillsboro Hops 2014 relief pitcher Dan Savas is now pitching for Missoula, and will represent the Pioneer League squad.
There is a large contrast in styles between the two competing leagues. Pitching rules in the Northwest League, as ballparks are larger and at lower altitudes. The average team ERA in the NWL: 4.04. The league batting average in the NWL: .252.
The Pioneer League is a different story altogether. Teams play in small ballparks, and the balls fly all over the yard. To keep an ERA in the 4 range is no small feat. The average team ERA in the PIO: 5.23. The league batting average in the PIO: .285.
How fun is this going to be? We’ve got pitching on one side, and hitting on the other. Which one will reign supreme?
SHORT HOPS: The Diamondbacks’ affiliates are teams to be reckoned with. From the bottom of the chain, it goes: Dominican Summer League D-backs (DSL), Arizona League D-backs (AZL), Pioneer League Missoula Osprey (Rookie), Northwest League Hillsboro Hops (Short-A), Midwest League Kane County Cougars (A), California League Visalia Rawhide (Advanced-A), Southern League Mobile BayBears (AA), and Pacific Coast League Reno Aces (AAA).
Missoula won the first half of the Pioneer League North Division by 5.5 games with a 23-14 record. Hillsboro won the first half of the Northwest League South Division with a 22-16 record. Kane County leads the Midwest League Western Division by 4 games in the second half with a 26-8 record. Visalia already won the first half of the California League North Division and holds a 63-40 overall record. Mobile currently leads the Southern League South Division by 2.5 games in the second half with a 20-12 record. That’s a strong system.
Some parent clubs use the minor leagues for development only – and that’s fine. Different teams have different organizational philosophies. The Diamondbacks certainly use the minor leagues for developing players, but they also place a large emphasis on creating a culture of winning. They want their players to learn how to win and to become good teammates. When you see such a strong affiliate showing like what’s currently happening in 2015, it stands to reason that the winning is on the way for the big league club.
The 1995 Braves with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. The 2002 Oakland Athletics with Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and Mark Mulder. The 2015 Hillsboro Hops with Jared Miller, Cody Reed, and Carlos Hernandez.
OK, yes, this isn’t the big leagues – yet – but the level of dominance exhibited by this fearsome troika of Hillsboro hurlers is almost beyond comprehension. Through July 24th, Miller, Reed, and Hernandez were numbers 1, 2, and 3 respectively in earned run average in the Northwest League. Miller was pacing the league at 1.33, Reed was on his heels at 1.37, and Hernandez was lurking at 1.47.
The next best ERA in the NWL behind the Hillsboro three? Eugene’s Oscar De La Cruz at 2.23. Hernandez is third on the podium on his own team, when his ERA would lead the NWL by nearly a full run otherwise.
Here are a few other categories in which the Hillsboro three occupy gold, silver, and bronze in the NWL:
Strikeouts – 1) Hernandez 53, 2) Reed 46, 3) Miller 45
WHIP – 1) Reed 0.76, 2) Hernandez 0.86, 3) Miller 0.95
Batting Average Against – 1) Reed .153, 2) Hernandez .172, 3) Miller .203
The Hops record when the three starters pitch: 13-8.
To have three starters the caliber of Miller, Reed, and Hernandez is a wonderful thing, great for the Hops and their fans. The logical thought among Hillsboro fans is the retention of the three. Certainly all three have shown they can get hitters out at this level, and no doubt, Diamondbacks brass will be curious to see what they can do at higher levels.
Consider the following purely speculation.
- Jared Miller seems to be the first member of the three with the chance at a promotion. He started the season with the Kane County Cougars of the Midwest League and was effective early before hitting a rough patch. Since being reassigned to Hillsboro, he has found his form, and just may find a plane ticket elsewhere shortly.
- Cody Reed, the 2014 second round selection out of Ardmore High School in Alabama, may stick around longer. The burly left hander is just 19 years old, and the Diamondbacks have shown no intention of rushing him through the system. He possesses a valuable arm, and the Northwest League is a great place to pitch.
- Carlos Hernandez is the pitcher most likely to stay the longest with the Hops. He logged two seasons with the Pioneer League Missoula Osprey before his 2015 assignment to Hillsboro. His results for Missoula weren’t eye-popping, but for his age-18 and age-19 seasons, they were certainly something to build on. In 2015, his improvement has been staggering as his ERA has dropped almost three full runs. The Diamondbacks may need to see more of Hernandez’s stuff before they feel comfortable sending him to a higher level, but if his Hillsboro performance is any indication, it won’t be long until he is ready.
With Hillsboro closing in on a playoff berth, big league clubs are often anxious to see how their young prospects perform in pressure-packed situations. As we saw in 2014 with guys like Markus Solbach and Zac Curtis, the playoffs provide a nice glimpse into a prospect’s intestinal fortitude. If the Hops clinch a playoff appearance, it may mean our horses see some playoff starts in Washington County.
With the All-Star Game rapidly approaching, (August 3-5 in Spokane, Washington) it appears the three pitchers are destined to earn appointments to the Northwest League team. The bigger question may be who earns the start in the game? All three Hops starters have staked their claim to the honor.
We’ll be happy as long as we have the Miller, Reed, Hernandez trio, but we’ll also be excited to watch them rise through the Diamondback system.
Note: This story will appear in Volume II of the Hillsboro Hops Gameday Program, starting July 18.
The impetus to become a baseball player is usually pretty standard. A young man idolizes someone in the big leagues, admires the way he plays the game, and strives to emulate him. So when Hops pitcher Carlos Hernandez told me his grandmother, Alicia, is the person who inspired him to take up baseball, I did a double take. Then I pressed him.
“I started playing baseball when I was like 3 years old,” Hernandez began. “My grandma was a baseball lover so she got me into it.”
To say she was a baseball lover might even be a bit of an understatement. “She was the one who helped me through everything. She was my manager when I was 5 years old.” I was immediately curious how difficult it was for a young kid to be managed by his grandmother, who still resides in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, where Hernandez keeps a home in the offseason.
“It was pretty good, I felt like I had a responsibility because I wanted her to win.”
Growing up in the baseball-crazed Dominican Republic, Hernandez fell in love with the game not through seeing the many talented Dominican-born players in the big leagues, but instead as the star pupil on his grandmother’s baseball team.
Hernandez opened the season as the #4 starter for Hillsboro. The right-hander stands 5’11” and checks in at just 170 pounds, but he’s been throwing his weight around ever since he arrived at Ron Tonkin Field. On July 2 against the Eugene Emeralds, he recorded the best professional outing of his young career, when he breezed through seven shutout innings, working around three hits and three walks, while posting ten strikeouts. His grandmother and the rest of his family watched his fantastic outing via milb.tv in the Dominican Republic, and they celebrated his start with a phone call after the game.
He speaks English beautifully, the result of attending an English-speaking school in the Dominican Republic from ages 4-13. “I knew more English than Spanish when I was 9 years old,” says Hernandez.
He’s been enjoying a breakout year here in Hillsboro after posting middling results the past two seasons for the Pioneer League Missoula Osprey. He credits Hops pitching coach Doug Drabek with his improvement, but the changes haven’t been mechanical.
“I’m mentally better, I’ve been working a lot with Dougie so I feel pretty good. I’m more positive about making pitches, I know that they won’t hit it. Sometimes you’re afraid that they might hit it, so now I feel a lot more comfortable.”
Baseball has always been a mental game, and for many young pitchers in the throes of development, oftentimes the psychological breakthroughs are the most important. The minor leagues are here to help with that growth, as Hernandez refines not just his mechanics, but also his attitude and philosophy toward pitching.
As Hernandez grew up, he started following professional baseball players from the Dominican Republic, and became especially enamored with one jheri-curled diminutive right-hander from the island.
“Pedro Martinez,” Hernandez says with a smile and without hesitation, “No doubt about it. We’re almost the same size, he was kind of skinny like me. I wouldn’t be mad if I could throw like him,” he says, laughing.
So Hernandez presses on, emulating Pedro Martinez and at the constant behest of his grandmother Alicia in Santo Domingo. Armed with Drabek’s mental advice, and always working to smooth out his mechanics, he continues to improve. He wants to be a big leaguer. “I love the sport, it’s my dream since I was a little kid, it’s my grandma’s dream too, so it would be pretty nice to accomplish it.”
Hernandez keeps in touch often with his grandmother in Santo Domingo, whom he last saw four months ago. Any time the Hops are at home with Hernandez on the mound, she’s tuning in via computer from 3500 miles away.
The Ron Tonkin Field crowd is always friendly, but he knows Alicia is watching if he leaves a few pitches up in the zone, and worse, he’ll hear about it over the phone after the game. He wants to make his former manager proud. After all, he’s dreaming for the both of them.
The Hillsboro Hops are almost two weeks into the new season, and have seen some early ups and downs. The Hops currently hold a 5-6 record, have lost three straight to the Vancouver Canadians, but find themselves locked in a three-way tie for first in the Northwest League South Division.
Good stuff: Zach Nehrir
Entering the season, there had been eight total four-hit games in the history of the Hillsboro Hops. Well, on 6/23 in the home opener against the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, Zach Nehrir provided the ninth. Then, on 6/24, also against the Volcanoes, Nehrir provided the tenth. That’s right—Nehrir posted consecutive four-hit games for the Hops as they completed a series sweep in the first three games at Ron Tonkin Field.
So who is Zach Nehrir? He was drafted this year by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 16th round out of Houston Baptist University. He is a native of Orange, California, and he may have clinched an everyday assignment in an otherwise crowded outfield. Oh—and it’s pronounced “NAIR-ee-AIR.”
Something to work on: the infield defense
Before the season began, the Hops were expected to field one of the more talented infield defenses in all of minor league baseball. Yes, Hillsboro has no shortage of defensive talent across the infield, but the results have not translated. Through 11 games, the Hops have committed 26 errors, most in the league. The next closest team has committed 19 errors.
Many of the errors attributed to Hops infielders are easy corrections. Sergio Alcantara, Fernery Ozuna, Nate Robertson, and Raymel Flores (since reassigned to Rookie-League Missoula) are all tremendous athletes and able to reach baseballs that most people cannot. Instead of making the routine play, they sometimes go the heroic route and the balls fly around the infield.
This is a kink that will be corrected with repetition, discipline, and patience. The Hops’ middle infield tandem of Alcantara and Ozuna is incredibly young, just 18 and 19 years old respectively. The minor leagues exist to develop players, and this is simply a part of that development. Players are known to improve drastically over the course of the season, so we’ll see where we find our guys as the year progresses.
History coming soon: Aaron Blair
Let’s turn the clock back to 2013 briefly. Remember Aaron Blair? The 2013 compensation round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks began his career here with the Hops, and is thisclose to becoming the first former Hop to play in the big leagues. How close? He is now pitching for AAA-Reno in the Pacific Coast League, and since being roughed up in his initial start with the Aces, has dazzled in his last two.
Reno is a notoriously difficult place to pitch in, and the PCL is ruthless on pitchers, as stadiums are at high-altitudes, and the park dimensions are diminutive in comparison to Hank Aaron Stadium and the other palaces of the AA-Southern League.
Lots of top prospects jump AAA straight to the big leagues. However, when pitchers have been assigned to Reno, it is oftentimes just a brief stop before the final promotion to the big leagues. When asked about the current starting pitching situation in the big leagues, Dave Stewart, General Manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, had this to say of Blair on June 13, 2015:
“My thought is I wouldn’t want to call them right now. But to give you an example, Blair is throwing the ball good. If he’s throwing the ball good in another month, then we’d probably have to consider him if we need starting pitching. It really just depends on what they’re doing…” (Steve Gilbert, mlb.com)
(Aaron Blair is still throwing the ball good a month later.) A few more solid starts, and Blair will have effectively kicked down the door to the big leagues.
It’s a good time to be a Hillsboro Hop.
The 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft will be held from June 8th – June 10th and our parent club, the Arizona Diamondbacks, owns the first overall pick. That is no doubt exciting to not only the Hillsboro Hops, but also all the other affiliates in the Diamondbacks system, as a major infusion of talent is about to join the ranks.
The Diamondbacks have the first pick in every round of the draft, which means that the team will be able to add several talented players to an already talent-laden system. This draft is a little bit different however. There isn’t an obvious first-overall pick like there have been in years past. Think Stephen Strasburg. Think Bryce Harper. That doesn’t mean this is a weak draft, it just means the scouting department is a little bit busier compiling reconnaissance work. Indeed there is talent in every draft, and in this one, it will be about finding the right player that fits need and system.
I know what you’re thinking: yes, it would be possible for the first overall pick to be assigned to Hillsboro to start his professional career. Since 1996, the Diamondbacks have had 29 first-round selections, and 9 have seen time in the Northwest League, and all since 2003. The D-backs are much more likely to assign a player drafted out of college rather than high school to a Short-Season team like Hillsboro. When the team drafts high-schoolers, the usual path is first to the Arizona Summer League (AZL) to iron out some kinks, and then often times, straight to Kane County. Other times, players may be assigned first to the AZL and jump to Rookie-League Missoula, before skipping Hillsboro straight to Kane County, as has been the case with 2014 first-rounder Touki Toussaint.
When the D-backs draft a player out of college, often times he is more polished than a high school product, and able to start at a more advanced level. This was the route for 2013 first-rounder Braden Shipley, who made his professional debut with the Hops and now pitches for the Double-A Mobile BayBears of the Southern League. So, if we’re pulling for the first-overall pick to be assigned to Hillsboro (and we are) let’s all cross our fingers and hope the D-backs draft a player out of college. The Diamondbacks are playing their cards close to the vest, but recent reports suggest the team may be leaning towards taking a college player with the first overall selection. A name circulating now is Vanderbilt product Dansby Swanson, a shortstop for the Commodores of the Southeastern Conference. It would not be surprising for the Diamondbacks to select a Commodore, as 2014 selections Touki Toussaint, Cody Reed, and Isan Diaz were all bound for Vanderbilt out of high school before electing to sign professional contracts. The Diamondbacks also selected Jared Miller out of Vanderbilt in the 11th round, who was then assigned to Hillsboro to begin his career.
Swanson hit .350 this season for the Commodores and is versatile on the infield, logging time at second base and shortstop, leading scouts to believe he can play either position at the major league level. He is known to be an intense competitor and a dedicated teammate. Vanderbilt has become something of a baseball factory, producing players like David Price and Sonny Gray, and Swanson seems to be the next in a long line of talented Commodores.
Swanson hasn’t been the only college player the D-backs have been linked to. Other names that have been tossed around include University of Illinois left-hander Tyler Jay, Vanderbilt teammate Carson Fulmer, University of California-Santa Barbara pitcher Dillon Tate, and several others. Like we mentioned, it’s a deep draft with no definitive number one overall pick. Any number of players can make a legitimate case to be taken first overall.
The Diamondbacks have also considered several high school players. Prep catcher Tyler Stephenson has been discussed, and some think prep shortstop Brendan Rodgers is the cream of this year’s crop. Again, if the D-backs decide to go with a high-school player, and they may, we would be less likely to see him in Hillsboro.
There is a lot of uncertainty as this year’s draft rapidly approaches, but one thing for certain is that the Diamondbacks will add a lot of talent to the system. We’ll cross our fingers that we see the first overall pick come through here, but we can rest assured that we will field another talented team in 2015 regardless.
Go Diamondbacks and go Hops!
20 days until Opening Day.
Saturday, May 16th marked a momentous day in Hops history. The team hosted its first-ever Hillsboro Hops Fan Fest at Ron Tonkin Field, the finest baseball facility in the land. Hops fans came from far and wide to celebrate the rapidly approaching baseball season, and to enjoy a complimentary hot dog and Coke on the Hops.
Fan Fest went from 10 AM – 2 PM and featured free parking and admission. Tons of fun attractions littered the playing field and the concourse, including an inflatable Kids’ Zone out in centerfield, a designated space to play catch in left field, and a face-painter for the kids stationed on the 3rd-base concourse. The event coincided with the release of single-game tickets to the general public, and the response from Hops fans all over Washington County and beyond was overwhelming.
The event also featured an area for speed pitch in the visitors’ bullpen, where the unofficial fastest pitch recorded was a blazing 74 miles per hour, an opportunity for kids to run the bases, a live radio remote broadcast on Rip City Radio 620 AM with Rich Burk, the Voice of the Hops, tours of the ballpark, and a special sale at the team’s merchandise store.
The initial projection for expected attendees was right around 500 people, and by 11:30 AM, that number had already been exceeded. Hops Nation came out in full force, pushing the unofficial attendance to 2,000 people.
“We really weren’t too sure what to expect when we started drawing up the concept for the event. We knew we’d be able to get fans to the ballpark, but for the turnout to quadruple our expectations is more than anyone could have asked for,” said Hops Executive Vice President and General Manager K.L. Wombacher. “It’s just unbelievable to have the fan support we do.”
With the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft right around the corner, and the start of the season just beyond, we’ll start to really gain an understanding of who our 2015 Hops will be. With Fan Fest in the rear-view mirror, we’re full-speed ahead here at the ballpark, and ready to build on our championship campaign.
26 days until the Hops play at Ron Tonkin Field.